Feb 14, 2005 8:05am
Why Does The U.S. Not Have A Ranking For Least Corrupt To Most Corrupt States?
Inspired by this article from http://www.philippinebusiness.com.ph/topTen/1_governance.htm
The country’s No. 1 headache is not the economy; it’s corruption
The World Bank calls it a governance deficit. National and international surveys reveal a rise in the perception of corruption in the past five years. The Philippines’ ranking in Transparency International’s survey of perceptions of corruption slipped from 55 in 1998 (out of 85 countries) to 65 in 2001 (out of 91 countries), then to 102 in 2004 (out of 146 countries). In the Corruption Perception Index (where 10 is the best and 1 is the worst), the Philippines’ score dropped from 2.9 in 2001 to 2.6 in 2004. These figures are significant because prior to 2000, the Philippines had been improving its CPI rating.
The problem of corruption is now recognized globally as a threat to development. In 2004, the TI Global Corruption Barometer showed that 45% of respondents worldwide expected the level of corruption to increase in the next three years; 54% of respondents in the Philippines said corruption would get worse. The Global Corruption Barometer surveyed about 50,000 respondents in 64 countries, including the Philippines.
That feeling of pessimism and cynicism was also high in the 4th Enterprise Survey on Corruption done by Social Weather Stations in partnership with the Makati Business Club (publisher of Philippine Business) for the Transparent Accountable Governance (TAG) project. In the same SWS survey, however, majority of business executives still believe that government can operate without corruption.
When President Arroyo first assumed office in 2001, she said good governance was one of the pillars of her administration. Significant reforms were undertaken, including the creation of the Presidential Committee on Effective Governance which recommended the abolition of 117 redundant agencies. Other reforms focused on procurement, corporate governance, and the judiciary. Improved inter-agency cooperation and increased support to the Office of the Ombudsman also followed. Even the private sector and NGOs expanded their network and advocacy to support the government’s fight against graft.
But as the presidential elections approached in May 2004, the battle was set aside and almost all but forgotten. Politics and the campaign against corruption just don’t mix. According to the Global Corruption Barometer, Philippine political parties and the legislature are ranked second only to the police as institutions most affected by corruption. It will be difficult to clean out corruption if key institutions are held in such low regard by the people.
Corruption perception surveys give a picture of the huge battle everybody needs to wage. To a certain extent, the series of scams—both election and non-election related—jolted the public’s view on how graft cases are being handled. Most people do not know whom to trust. The tricky part in changing beliefs is not in proposing ideas, but in showing results.
Implementation, rather than public announcements, is the key. One step in the right direction is the hiring of Tony Kwok, Hong Kong’s retired deputy commissioner of its Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). According to Mr. Kwok, when he was deputy commissioner, 80% of his staff and resources was engaged or deployed in operations (read “prosecution”) while only 20% was devoted to public information, advocacy, and training. The best lesson that could be shown to potential offenders was the very strong possibility that they will be caught.
But Mr. Kwok’s role is limited to that of a consultant. At the end of the day, government agencies will need to implement and run their own programs. That’s where some confusion could arise because the government has multiple agencies – and therefore potentially overlapping jurisdictions – assigned to the job. There is the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) under Sec. Constancia de Guzman which is charged with investigating any of the Presidential appointees. There is also the Office of the Ombudsman, headed by Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, whose job is to prosecute cases of corruption by government officials before the Sandiganbayan. There is also a lifestyle checking team under Undersecretary Nick Conti which is now being absorbed by PAGC. And now there is a new appointment of former Justice Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez as “anti-corruption czar.” It is not clear yet what office or agency she will head and have responsibility over.
Aside from the Ombudsman, a major player in the anti-corruption fight is the Sandiganbayan, the court which tries all corruption cases against government officials. The dockets are woefully overclogged and the court painfully slow. It has just five divisions with a total load of 2,000 cases or 400 cases per division. Individual cases may be heard as infrequently as once in four months. In a good year, a case may have just six hearings in a single year. Adding to the inefficiency, cases -- regardless of size -- must be heard and decided by a division, which is composed of three justices. This means the same level of executive time is spent on a P1 million case as is spent on a plunder case (anything over P50 million under Philippine law). Little wonder then that a case as important as that of former President Joseph Estrada will mark its fourth anniversary in April 2005 or that former First Lady Imelda Marcos continues to walk free in social circles.
The poster boy of corruption — and litmus test for the government — is recently retired Major General Carlos F. Garcia, AFP’s infamous comptroller. While Garcia was still in active duty, his son was caught by US Customs in December 2003 for failing to declare US$100,000 in cash upon arrival in the United States. The general’s wife, Clarita Depakakibo-Garcia, disclosed that her husband regularly received cash for travel and expenses from awarded contracts for military hardware. She also revealed that her husband received “gratitude money” from several companies that were awarded military contracts to build roads, bridges, and military housing.
Further investigation showed that Garcia had P7 million in one of four Armed Forces and Police Savings and Loan Association Inc. accounts and received over P5 million in dividends from 2000 to 2003. He owned condominiums in New York, a house in Ohio, at least eight vehicles (registered under the names of his wife or sons), and about 32 known accounts in various banks. He also had a resort, restaurant and a mango production business in Iloilo and as well as plenty of land. All properties didn’t show up in his filed Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth. Garcia was relieved from his post on 10 March 2004 and was facing court martial proceedings at the Judge Advocate General’s Office until his retirement recently. He is facing graft charges before the Ombudsman.
The Garcia case is hardly the only one pending in the courts. A former First Lady, an ex-President, and more than a handful of private corporations and their CEOs have either major corruption, plunder, or tax evasion cases pending in court. If the government is looking for a case or two to set an example and send a signal to the people, there is no shortage of cases to try and decide. The only way to make people believe that the government is serious in eradicating corruption is by punishing offenders. Failure to do that will just encourage more cynicism and make the fight against graft and corruption even more difficult. Without a conviction soon, people will just tire of public calls for reform and altogether dismiss them as just another case of the boy (or girl) who cried wolf. The public is waiting for justice.